-- President Barack Obama’s trip to Saudi Arabia this week is putting renewed focus on the United States' relationship with the country -- in particular the continuing allegations that it played more of a role in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks than publicly acknowledged.
On Monday, Obama said the White House is almost finished with its review of a confidential 28-page section of the congressional report and could soon determine whether it will be declassified.
Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who was a co-chairman of the 2002 joint congressional inquiry into the attacks, has pushed for the full report to be made public. He has suggested it will show ties between Saudi officials living in the United States and the hijackers.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators is pushing legislation opposed by the White House that would allow families of September 11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts, further exacerbating tensions ahead of the president’s trip.
Why Are the 28 Pages Classified?
The 28 pages in question are a section of an 838-page report released in 2002 following a joint investigation of the attacks by the House and Senate intelligence committees.
The introduction to this redacted portion states that the 28 pages cover the congressional inquiry’s development of information "suggesting specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers while they were in the United States."
Is There a Chance the Pages Will Be Declassified?
Pressure is building on the administration to make the pages public, but other than Obama saying a review of the pages is almost complete, there has not been much public indication that they will be declassified.
"As the former Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and top the House Democrat on the Joint Congressional investigation looking into the 9/11 attacks, I agree with former Senator Bob Graham that these documents should be declassified and made public, and that the Bush Administration’s refusal to do so was a mistake," Pelosi said in an April 10 statement. "I have always advocated for providing as much transparency as possible to the American people consistent with protecting our national security."
A group of 9/11 survivors and victims’ families recently sent a letter to the president asking him to declassify the pages.
"We are certainly aware of the Kingdom’s threats," the letter stated. And the group argued "it is not acceptable ... to succumb to the demands of a foreign government" and abandon "principles of American justice."
What Is the Controversy Over the Senate Bill?
Foreign governments cannot be sued in U.S. courts under current law, but the Senate bill would allow civil actions to proceed against these governments if it can be shown they bear some responsibility for a terrorist attack in the United States.
Saudi Arabia has warned lawmakers that it would possibly sell as much as $750 billion in treasury securities and other U.S. assets if Washington acts on the bill, according to an April 15 report in the New York Times.
Families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks would like to be able to sue the Saudis for their alleged connections to the hijackers –- a notion that has bipartisan support in Congress.
But the White House is lobbying against the bill and has suggested Obama would veto the legislation if it clears Congress.
The president and his aides argue that the legislation would create more problems than it would solve and that it would expose U.S. officials and military personnel to similar scrutiny in other countries.
"This is a matter of how generally the United States approaches our interactions with other countries," Obama told CBS. "If we open up the possibility that individuals and the United States can routinely start suing other governments, then we are also opening up the United States to being continually sued by individuals in other countries."